Editor's Note: This post was originally published on June 7 and has been updated with the most recent information.
“Absence of ornament has brought the other arts to unsuspected heights,” Austrian architect and theorist Adolf Loos said in a seminal 1910 lecture titled “Ornament and Crime.” Coming out against the Art Nouveau movement, Loos called for “the elimination of ornament from useful objects” and hailed “smooth and precious surfaces” in the name of cultural progress.
This sentiment is the guiding principle of Ornament is Crime: Modernist Architecture, a new book that celebrates modernist architecture from its origins in the beginning of the 20th century to the present day.
Written by Matt Gibberd and Albert Hill—co-founders of London-based luxury modern real estate agency The Modern House—the book brings together some of the world’s most architecturally significant freestanding houses in an austere yet dynamic collection of black-and-white photographs organized not by geographical location or timeline but by aesthetic.
As such, works by modernist masters like Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, and Frank Lloyd Wright are presented alongside dwellings by contemporary architects like Tadao Ando, John Pawson, and David Adjaye. Interspersed among the images are quotations from architects, thinkers, and other leading figures of the modernist movement.
Below are excerpts from Ornament is Crime, out now from Phaidon.
Decoration: baubles, charming entertainment for a savage.
- Le Corbusier
The Future will favor materials which best solve the problems propounded by the new man: I understand by the New Man the type of individual who keeps pace with scientific thought, who understands his age and lives it: the Aeroplane, the Ocean Liner and the Motor are at his service; Sport gives him health; His House is his resting place.
- Charlotte Perriand, “Wood or Metal”
Products should be well designed and as neutral and open as possible, leaving room for the self expression of those using them.
- Dieter Rams
The long road from the material through function to form has only one goal: to create order out of unholy confusion.
- Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
I want to abolish time, especially in the contemplation of architecture.
- Piet Mondrian
I take it as self evident that a building, quite devoid of ornament, may convey a noble and dignified sentiment by virtue of mass and proportion. It is not evident to me that ornament can intrinsically heighten these elemental qualities. Why then should we use ornament? Is not a simple dignity sufficient? Why should we ask more?
- Louis Sullivan, “Ornament in Architecture”